Running and Time: How Important Are The Numbers to Runners?

A look at how important the numbers are to runners.

By on September 7, 2012 | Comments

AJWs TaproomI’ve been running for almost 20 years. I’ve never really been a numbers person. In fact, I’m kind of an English Major humanities guy. But, running for the last 20 years has made me a little more aware of numbers and, to be honest, it’s made me care more about numbers.

I can’t remember how much money I made in my first job nor can I remember my dad’s birthday or my 14 year-old son’s cell phone number, but I can certainly remember how much time it took me to run the 1993 Fairmont Park 8.4 Miler (64:12). I can also remember my first marathon in Chambersburg, PA (3:19), my first 50K at Holcomb Valley (4:32), my first 50-miler at Crown King (8:12) and my first 100-miler at Angeles Crest (22:15). I can remember each and every one of my eight Western States finishes and I can remember, clearly, how much I beat Joe Kulak by at WS in 2005 (8:59) and how much Scott Jaime beat me by at Hardrock in 2009 (20:36). You see, the thing is, as much as I love to just go out there and run, the numbers really do matter.

And that is what surprised me so much about Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan’s assertion the other day that he ran a marathon in “two fifty something” when, in fact, he ran a 4:01. Now, I don’t intend to get political in this column nor do I mean to suggest that everyone should know, down to the second, what their best marathon time was, but I have been around runners for the last 20 years or so and I have almost never talked to someone who doesn’t have an indelible memory of their numbers. In fact, it’s one of the great ironies of running that we take something that is so inherently simple and make it complex by crunching, playing with, and manipulating the numbers.

I have friends who have saved literally decades worth of their training journals. Some of these journals contain written narratives and others contain course information but all of them, and I mean all of them, contain numbers, and often lots of them. Miles, paces, heart rates, repeats, temperatures, etc…they’re all there. And, in the end, the numbers may be all you need.

Last week, I was talking to one of the new parents at my school. He has three kids all of whom have excelled in team sports, his two sons at football and basketball and his daughter at soccer and lacrosse. And, as much as he was proud of his kid’s successes, he was also increasingly disillusioned by the subjective, political, and capricious nature of youth team sports. Then, he said, “Andy, your sport is different” and pointed to his watch. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, who your father is, or what you look like, the watch doesn’t lie.”

And maybe that is why the numbers matter to us. In a world of increasing dishonesty, insincerity, and deceit we always know where we stand with The Watch.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Terrapin Hopsecutioner IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Georgia. Their Hopsecutioner IPA is bold and sophisticated much like the talented musicians and artists who hail from this great southern college town.

Call for Comments

  • How well do you know your running numbers?
  • What’s the oldest personal running number that you can recall?
  • Anyone actively try to avoid “numbers” in your running? If so, how?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.